10 Players to Watch: Sony Open in Hawaii

  1. Jimmy Walker, United States — Walker will be trying to become the first player to win three consecutive titles at the Sony Open in Hawaii after blowing away the field by a tournament-record nine strokes last year. In 2014, he claimed a one-stroke victory over Chris Kirk. Walker is making his 10th appearance at Waialae, and he is 50-under-par in his past 12 rounds there, scoring in the 60s each time. The 36-year-old veteran, who has claimed all five of his PGA Tour victories since 2013, started the 2015-16 season by tying for 50th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. In his past two events, he tied for eighth in the Hero World Challenge and tied for 10th in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — Since he did not win last season on the PGA Tour, Scott did not qualify for the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions, so he will start 2016 this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He junked his long putter late last year for a conventional model ahead of the anchoring ban that went into effect on Jan. 1. After the change, he had some good results, including solo second in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, fifth in the Australian Masters and a tie for second in the Australian Open. In Scott’s six previous appearances in the Sony Open, he missed the cut twice but finished in the top 20 four times, his best result a tie for second in 2009, when he closed with a 64 and finished two shots behind Zach Johnson.
  1. Kevin Kisner, United States — With his solo ninth in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Kisner maintained his lead in the FedEx Cup standings through the first eight events of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season. He placed in the top 10 in each of his past three tournaments, finishing second in the WGC-HSBC Champions and claiming his first victory on the circuit in the RSM Classic to end the fall portion of the schedule. Kisner will tee it up for the fifth time in the Sony Open in Hawaii, and he has not yet figured out how to play the tight course at Waialae. He missed the cut in his first three appearances and finished 84th (next-to-last among those who made the cut) last year, bowing out when the secondary cut was made on Saturday.
  1. Matt Kuchar, United States — Kuchar usually opens his year in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but since he did not win on the PGA Tour last year for the first time since 2011, he will play for the first time this year in the Sony Open in Hawaii. He did come close early last year when he tied for third in the Sony and tied for second a week later in the Humana Challenge, but his seven top-10 finishes actually represented a bit of a down season for him. Kuchar is making his 13th appearance in the Sony, and after missing the cut in six of his first eight starts at Waialae, he figured out how to play it, posting four consecutive results in the top 10 — with the best last year.
  1. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Seemingly healthy after being slowed by injuries the last few seasons, Snedeker closed with 65-67 to finish solo third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, although he did wind up nine strokes behind runaway winner Jordan Spieth. This week, he will be making his third start in the Sony Open in Hawaii, and he has not played well at Waialae, missing the cut in 2007 and 2008. Snedeker showed he was on the way back early last year on the West Coast swing, where he tied for 10th in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and tied for 19th in the Farmers Insurance Open before winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for his seventh PGA Tour victory and first in nearly two years.
  1. Zach Johnson, United States — Coming off a disappointing tie for 21st in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which he opened with a 2-over-par 75, Johnson will try to bounce back at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He won at Waialae in 2009, closing with 65-66-65 to beat Adam Scott and David Tomas by two strokes, and his straight and steady style would seem to be perfect for the narrow fairways and smallish greens. However, he has finished in the top 10 only once in his past five appearances in Honolulu, when he tied for eighth two years ago. Johnson, who won the Open Championship at St. Andrews last July, is No. 12 in the World Golf Rankings but has some work to do to make the U.S. Olympic team.
  1. Padraig Harrington, Ireland — Harrington, who won the Honda Classic last year in a playoff over eventual Rookie of the Year Daniel Berger for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2008 PGA Championship, got the new year off to a strong start with a tie for sixth in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions — which he was playing for the first time. He has made the short flight across the Hawaiian islands to Oahu for the Sony Open in Hawaii, in which he also will be making his first appearance. Harrington still has plenty of work to do in the next few months to qualify for the Masters, as he sits at No. 120 in the World Golf Rankings and needs to climb into the top 50 to earn a spot at Augusta National in April.
  1. Russell Henley, United States — After winning five times in his first four seasons as a pro, three victories on the Web.com Tour and two on the PGA Tour, Henley was winless last season. He will start 2016 at the Sony Open in Hawaii, which he won three years ago for his first victory on the big tour. He posted three 7-under-par 63s and a 67 in round three at Waialae to finish three strokes ahead of Tim Clark. Henley tied for 51st as defending champion but bounced back to tie for 17th last year. After struggling a bit in 2014-15, he got the new season off to a good start by finishing 10th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and tying for sixth in the RSM Classic.
  1. Luke Donald, England — The former No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings said he nearly quit golf last year before meeting with a psychologist and later telling himself to simply “grow up and not be a baby.” He hasn’t won since the 2013 Dunlop Phoenix, and his last victories on the PGA Tour and the European Tour came in 2012. Donald, down to No. 78 in the World Golf Rankings, hopes to start a comeback when he tees it up in the Sony Open in Hawaii for the ninth time. His only top-10 finish at Waialae was a tie for second in 2007, when he held the lead after opening with 63-67, but he played the weekend in 69-69 and finished one shot behind Paul Goydos.
  1. Robert Allenby, Australia — Allenby is back at the Sony Open in Hawaii following a bizarre incident after he shot 71-71–142 to miss the cut by three strokes last year at Waialae. He woke up in the middle of the night in a park, bloodied and beaten, and had his credit cards and cell phone stolen. His account later was disputed by those who found him, but he said he was only repeating what others told him because he could not remember what happened. A Honolulu man was sentenced to five years in prison for putting thousands of dollars of items on Allenby’s credit card. The Aussie is playing at Waialae for the 15th time, and his best result was solo second in 2010, one stroke behind Ryan Palmer.

Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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